Behind the Curtain: Sara Stefani

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Sara Stefani, IU Archives Volunteer

Role: Sara is a volunteer at the IU Archives.  As part of her work, she assists the Director, Dina Kellams, with a variety tasks including: accessioning and processing new collections, assisting with reference questions, scanning and digitizing items, preparing exhibitions, and assisting with the very necessary and less “glamorous” things like filing. This has given Sara the opportunity to learn a little bit of everything that happens in the IU Archives.  Sara has also had the opportunity to work with and learn valuable information from other archives staff.  She has learned how to process born-digital items, create blog posts and exhibitions, and assist in managing records at the IU Warehouse.

Educational background:  Sara already has an advanced degree in Russian literature.  Currently, she is working to finish her Masters in Library Science with a specialization in Archives and Records Management.

Previous Experience   Prior to her work in the University Archives, Sara worked at a rare book library for three years.

What attracted her to IU Archives:   Sara began her M.L.S. with the intention of working in special collections libraries and took several classes held at the Lilly Library.  While taking the Manuscripts course taught by Erika Dowell, Sara realized that the idea of archival work was just as fascinating to her as working with special collections.  She then enrolled in a course taught by Phil Bantin, former director of the IU Archives.  Phil suggested that Sara look into volunteering at the IU Archives.  Sara says she has loved every minute of working in the IU Archives and is very glad that Phil made the suggestion.  She says: “The people who work at the IU Archives, both the permanent staff and the other students, are some of the most wonderful people I know.  I also really love the variety of tasks I get to do – I’m not just doing the same thing all the time, every day is different.  And I’ve learned a lot of really cool things about IU and handled some amazing materials.”

Members of the Hennel family, IU Archives image no. P0042977

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives:  Of the many collections held by the IU Archives, Sara says she’s a little bit in love with the Cecilia Hennel Hendricks Family Papers.  There’s so much in the collection that Sara has used it for several of the IU Archives pop-up exhibits.   There were three Hennel sisters who attended IU in the early twentieth century and later went on to become faculty.  After marrying in 1913, Cecilia moved to Wyoming with her husband to run a bee farm (how cool is that?!).  Upon the passing of her husband, she returned to IU to teach in the English Department. Cecilia’s sister Cora was the first person to receive a PhD in Mathematics from Indiana University.  The collection is full of Cecilia’s letters home describing all of the events in her life and the food she cooked.  It also contains items and information about beekeeping, local and international politics, mathematics, travel, IU life, and so much more.  There’s also correspondence from various family members which leaves you with an understanding of just how much they all loved each other.

Another collection Sara has found to be of great interest and has enjoyed working with is the Avis Tarrant Burke Papers.  Like the Hendricks Family Papers, this collection contains items from multiple individuals of the Burke Family, including love letters from each generation.

Current projects:   Currently, Sara is processing records from the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages.  The Honors Program is host to intensive foreign language study that includes study abroad opportunities.  Since their inception in 1962, the program has expanded from three study abroad programs to twelve!  The program is specifically for Indiana high schools, and many students from the local schools participate.  The collection Sara is processing contains drawings and letters from students to host families, as well as photographs.  Sara goes on to say that: “It’s a really wonderful collection!  They all look so happy and it seems like an amazing experience!  I wish I’d had that opportunity when I was in high school!.”

Favorite experience in the IU Archives:    It had only been a few days since Sara had begun her volunteer work with the Archives when a new collection arrived from an office on campus.  While part of the collection had been neatly collected in boxes, the rest had been collected in three garbage bags!  The office had initially intended to throw the items away, but at the last minute decided to donate it on the chance that the Archives might want the items.   Sara was thus able to get hands-on experience of the disarray a collection can be in when it is received; an experience which is fairly common in archival work.  “I had read that sometimes things show up in an archive like that, and there I was actually experiencing it.”  Sara and Dina sorted through the bags together, with Sara taking the opportunity to ask questions about the kinds of things that should be kept.  “It was also a great opportunity to learn methods of appraisal.  Maybe I’m just weird, but I loved getting to go through those garbage bags!”

What she learned from working here:    “Honestly, everything that I know about IU I learned by working in the Archives!” says Sara.  Even though she’s been a member of the faculty here at Indiana University for nine years, she says that “…as a faculty member, I pretty much just stay in my own world of my classes and my department.  I’ve never really felt connected to the university as a whole, and I really had no sense of its history.”  She states that since starting her work at the IU Archives, she has really started to get a sense of Indiana University’s history.  Her work with the Cecilia Hennel Hendricks papers, as well as working with some of the other faculty papers have contributed to this understanding.  Assisting in answering reference questions has also taught Sara a lot.  “I learned that IU used to have an intensive summer program for business executives to help them succeed in their careers (see previous post about that here), and during the years of World War II they also had a naval training program on campus.  I’ve also learned a lot about the history of women on the campus.  I’ve been able to see a bigger history of the country and the world reflected in the history of IU.”

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